My New Curbside Classic: 1965 Peugeot 404 – The Holy Grail Is In Hand, Literally

(first posted 8/16/2012)     Nobody said that attaining one’s personal automotive Holy Grail was going to be easy, but finally there’s a Peugeot 404 gracing my driveway. It’s been quite the drama; first, finding one just like I used to have after having long given up, and then having it offered to me at a reasonable price. But no, something about that one just wasn’t going to work for me, and I passed; but it left a little 404-sized hole in my heart. And then out of the blue, I was given a hot tip by Tom Klockau about one for sale on ebay, and I decided to stop rationalizing and just went for it. Life is too short, the price was too good to pass up, and it was in much better shape than the other one; like new, actually. Most of all, this one would actually fit into my life (and garage).

Isn’t it a little gem? Although mine was white, I’m very fond of this silver too. It reminds me of Stephanie’s 404 wagon, which was a dark green, but we had resprayed (cheaply) in a duller version of this, more like a battleship gray. This one is a 1965, which means no side marker lights to sully up its handsome flanks designed by Pininfarina.

That also means the earlier version of the interior, not the later one that I had. This was used from the 404’s debut in 1960 through 1965. A little more cheerful, actually, than the more monochromatic later ones. Don’t those famous pillow-soft seats look inviting?

I once briefly had a really early 404, a 1961 or ’62, during my 404 rescue days. I shouldn’t have bothered, though; it was just too far gone to bring back to life. But I used to sit in it and admire the early-style dash, with the horizontal strip speedometer and the little rectangular gauges. The later style with large round gauges (1967 and up) were easier to read, but truth is, it was cheaper in its construction; a bit flimsy actually. And there was no padded vinyl to crack; just black metal with a sort of crinkle finish. My ’62 still had a white steering wheel, but I put one of these black steering wheels with the full horn ring in my ’68, which had the ugly padded center horn bar. Now my new 404 has the best of both.

The 1965 was the first year for five main bearings in the 1618 cc hemi-head slant four, but this one might just be short a few cc, or bearings too. But who’s in a hurry? And no more valves to adjust every 6,000 miles. Never mind changing the transmission and rear axle fluids every 4,000 miles. And a whole slew of other required maintenance items, which I just refreshed myself on from the 404 Owner’s Manual I still have.

Almost forgot that the older 404s still had their spare in the trunk, and not suspended underneath. When you build the same basic car for fifteen years (thirty, in Kenya), it does allow for steady improvements.

Now here’s a real trip back in time: this one has the original-style Michelin X tire tread pattern. I don’t know what material Michelin made their original X radial tires out of back then, but I still had some of those tires on several of my old 404s. I didn’t like its Xz (or zX?) replacement nearly as well, wider tread or not. The made the steering heavier, and were just a bit pricy for me, so I’d scour the junk yards for old-school Xs.  Wore like steel, even without the steel belts showing through. They later brought out an XzX, which was taller and closer to the old X, but still not in that old tread pattern.

I’m thrilled to be able to run my hands over Pininfarina’s handiwork again. Now I just need to stop playing with it, and get out there and prune Stephanie’s garden, which has gone bonkers this year. Look at the size of those giant flowering shrubs and trees. It’s going to take my tall ladder to reach them.

Now here’s the best thing of all: in my post about the white 404 that was for sale, I suggested it was either it, or CC. Now that’s no way to live life; there’s always a win-win 200% solution out there, and I’ve found it. Now I can have both, even at the same time.

[1965 Peugeot 404 1:18 scale die-cast model by Norev]